By STEVE MASCORD
IN case you were wondering, it is indeed normal journalistic practice to do a spot of research before you embark on an extended feature about someone.
But post-match media opportunities can be somewhat chaotic. Sometimes, interviewing players can be like being back in the school yard collecting swap cards – “I’ll give you a Jones for a Smith although I really wanted a Ryan.”
And so when Wigan’s new media man Matthew Hennessy offered up Gabe Hamlin for a chat at DW Stadium on Friday night, even as I nodded, I was kind of shaking my head inside.
I knew so little about the bloke, you could have knocked me over with a feather when he answered the first question with an Aussie accent!
But as it turns out, Gabe is one of the best stories you can conjure up in the week of the World Club Challenge; a gun Under 20s player in Australia who gave it all up to see the world.
He played junior rugby league with several of the Sydney Roosters; his own life choices an illuminating counterpoint to the high pressure, high profile world of the NRL.
And next Sunday, in all likelihood, he comes face to face with his own personal Sliding Doors moment.
“It’s a big thing,” says the man known well to his team-mates as a NFL fanatic. “We take it seriously at this club – every club should.
“We won the last one against Cronulla and Lammy (coach Adrian Lam) definitely wants to win against his old club that he used to work for. For the town, it means a lot. For us, it means even more.”
Having been born the same year as Super League’s ill-thought-out World Club Championship, Gabe’s memories of trans-hemisphere club competition don’t go back too far. South Sydney beating St Helens in 2015 seems an age ago to him.
“It’s on quite early in the morning in Australia – you have to be a fan of the team to watch it!” he says we a smile.
The story with Gabe – which I learned from him and by doing research AFTER we spoke – doh! – is that he was recommended to the Warriors by their former coach, Michael Maguire, and star winger Pat Richards.
But normally, a bloke like him wouldn’t consider playing in England so early. Well, maybe there just aren’t too many blokes like him.
“My old coach at the Rabbitohs was Pat Richards and he suggested coming here,” says Gabe. “I trusted him.
“I’m glad I made the move, had a good year last year. It’s been a true happy story for me so far.”
“I just thought ‘why not?’, you know?” Hamlin says, when I was him to outline his thinking in putting a promising NRL career on hold.
“…as more of a life experience rather than a football opportunity. Live away from home for two years, it was a growing up opportunity, a maturing opportunity.
“I’m so happy how it’s turned out. I love it here and everyone’s made me feel welcome. I’m glad I’ve come over here, to be honest.”
That does make it sound like he’s definitely going back, though, doesn’t it? “My contract is up next year,” he says when I ask him about medium- and long-term plans.
“I do miss home quite a bit, I miss family. I’m not saying I’ll definitely stay or go but the experiences so far have been ama_ing. If I can get that World Club Challenge before I go home, another trophy under my belt, that will look good on the resume.
“They only come around every so often.
“I might go home at the end of the year, I might stay here. It depends on how I’m feeling about my family and all that.”
Victor Radley and Nat Butcher are the Roosters he knows best. But he never has pangs of when he sees their success. There are other things about life in Britain that took some getting used to, he admits.
“The lifestyle’s quite different,” he observes.
“After training I’ll go for a coffee or something but in Australia, you’ll go to the beach. You spend all day outside. I know that’s down to thew weather.
“But guys want to play PlayStation or something where I’d rather be outdoors but there’s not much to do outdoors. I find the food’s a bit different too but it’s all an experienced and I’m half English so I can’t bag it too much!
“My mum’s full English. No way is she Australian, she’d never claim to be. She’s from Blackpool.
“That’s why I’m quite lucky. I had the opportunity to stay at the Rabbitohs but this came up and I went ‘something new, why not? Mix it up’.
“We play so many games, you couldn’t have the same intensity of pre-season as you have in Australia. Your body just wouldn’t stand up to it.
“There’s only four teams who have won the grand final here so over there it’s stronger throughout the comp where as here there’s the strong sides and the weaker sides. That’s the only difference I think.”
“But the boys are up to the challenge – we definitely don’t count ourselves out against them.”
And this, very neatly in one quote, is your Gabe Hamlin World Club Challenge preview angle:
“If I want to go home, it’s a point to prove that I can play against those boys so I have to put my best foot forward and show the coaches here and back there that I’m up to that league.”